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Amid His Claims Of A Rigged Election, Trump Supporters In N.C. Fear Voter Fraud


Donald Trump has doubled down on the stunning suggestion he made at last night's debate that he might not accept the outcome of the election. Speaking today in Ohio, he said he would honor the result with one caveat.


DONALD TRUMP: I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election if I win.


SIEGEL: If he wins - the Republican candidate says he reserves the right to contest the election if it doesn't go his way.


Trump's repeated claims of vote rigging over the last several weeks have played well with his base. For some, though, this latest declaration goes too far. Our co-host Ari Shapiro watched last night's debate with a group of Trump supporters in rural North Carolina.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The town of Robbinsville sits in a dimple of the Great Smoky Mountains. A road known as the Tail of the Dragon winds away from here, whipping and switching through spectacular vistas up to the Tennessee border. This is a dry county, so there aren't any bars or nightclubs that people go to after dark. At our debate watching party, people brought plenty of non-alcoholic provisions.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'm going to try some of that. I'm not even hungry, but I'm going to try it.

SHAPIRO: This part of the county loves to defy the establishment. The local congressman, Mark Meadows, filed the motion to oust House Speaker John Boehner. So Donald Trump's bull-in-a-china-shop trait is part of what people here like about the candidate. The fact that he's alienated so many people is a plus. Steve Odom owns a trucking company.

STEVE ODOM: I like Trump's new slogan, drain the swamp, because I am anti-establishment. I don't agree with these guys and the positions they've taken.

SHAPIRO: He's talking about Republican leaders. In North Carolina, early voting started today. Polls in the state are almost tied, and Trump lags by about seven points nationally. So in this room, some people were nervous heading into the debate. Lowell Crisp is a retired school principal.

LOWELL CRISP: Whoever's behind says, hey, you can't pay attention to the polls. But right now, if the election were tomorrow, he'd lose.

SHAPIRO: Early on, this group applauded Trump's answers on the Supreme Court, abortion and immigration.


TRUMP: But we have some bad hombres here, and we're going to get them out.


SHAPIRO: Deb Turquand is retired from the school district.

DEB TURQUAND: Well, the other debates, like on a 1 to 10 - some of them were three. One was six. This one's 10.

SHAPIRO: More than an hour into the debate, Trump made his most controversial remark of the night, refusing to say whether he'll accept the results of the election.


TRUMP: I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking at anything now. I'll look at it at the time.

SHAPIRO: Voter Lowell Crisp shook his head.

CRISP: We're going to accept the election whatever the outcome is.

SHAPIRO: What do you think of Donald Trump saying, we'll wait and see; I'll leave you in suspense?

CRISP: Well, I wish he hadn't have said that, and I think that's one mistake he made tonight.

SHAPIRO: Here in North Carolina, a court recently struck down the state's voter ID law. Many Republicans worry that could open the door to voter fraud even though there's no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the U.S. Seventy-five-year-old Ruth Engle says for the first time in her life, she doesn't trust the integrity of an American election.

RUTH ENGLE: You show ID for everything but to vote. Now, that's suspect.

SHAPIRO: And so if on November 9 they say that Hillary Clinton is the new president, are you going to believe it?

ENGLE: No, I'll never believe it if she wins.

SHAPIRO: So how does that make you feel about the American democracy if you can't trust the outcome of the election?

ENGLE: It's pathetic.

SHAPIRO: Donald Trump's complaints that the system is rigged against him have drawn wide criticism. President Obama hit back this week, saying the GOP candidate's whining over voter fraud was irresponsible. But those claims resonated with most of the Trump supporters in this room.

Raise your hand if you think the election could actually be rigged. Almost everybody in the room says the election could be rigged.

So we asked a related question - whether people in the room would accept the results of the election even if Clinton is declared the winner.


ODOM: You have to.


ODOM: Maybe reluctantly, but yeah, we would have no other choice I don't think than to accept the results. There again, I might not agree with whether or not it was a fair election.

SHAPIRO: That's Steve Odom, committed to supporting Donald Trump but also committed to supporting American democracy no matter who wins on November 8. This is Ari Shapiro reporting from Robbinsville, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.